The run-up to the November election was notable for the outcry against the extreme attacks on women's reproductive health care -- from the effort to require "transvaginal" ultrasounds in Virginia to Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" controversy in Missouri. And let's not forget other memorable comments from the campaign trail: 'some girls rape easy' and pregnancy resulting from rape is something that 'God intended to happen.'
To paraphrase actor-activist Alec Baldwin, you know your country is in trouble when people ask, 'Did the rape guy win?' and you have to respond, 'Which one?' The candidates' offensive and absurd comments should not be laughed off as an aberration. They were made in the context of intense activity in Congress and the states to limit women's reproductive health care, including for women who have been raped. Indeed, the last two years have seen the highest number of restrictions on women's reproductive health care ever enacted in the 40 years that Roe v. Wade, whose anniversary we mark this week, has been the law of the land.
Women made clear on Election Day what they thought of the candidates' abhorrent remarks and the myriad attacks on their reproductive health. President Obama, the pro-choice candidate, was reelected with 55 percent of the female vote, and in a victory that many had thought impossible, Sen. Claire McCaskill defeated Akin with 56 percent of Missouri women's votes. The other two so-called "rape candidates" also went down in defeat, and voters in Florida and earlier in North Dakota rejected ballot measures that would have restricted women's reproductive health.
So did lawmakers get the message? Are they rethinking their strategy to make access to reproductive health care as difficult as possible? So far, it's not looking likely.
Just weeks after the election, while national attention was on a controversial pair of right-to-work laws passed during Michigan's lame-duck session, the state's legislature quietly passed a host of new abortion restrictions in an "omnibus" bill. That legislation imposes unnecessary and extremely expensive and burdensome requirements on clinics that provide abortions and restricts access to the abortion pill, the availability of which is especially important to women in rural areas, where abortion providers are few and far between. While the country celebrated the holidays, Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill into law -- on the same day that Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed off on similarly burdensome and unnecessary regulations that many fear could shut down most or all of the state's abortion providers.
What's ahead for 2013? A number of state lawmakers already have introduced bills that would restrict women's reproductive health care. In South Carolina, two bills would establish "personhood" for fertilized eggs and could result in a total ban on abortion, many contraceptive methods and some fertility treatments. In Mississippi and Wyoming, bills would outlaw nearly every abortion before most women even know they are pregnant. And Texas Gov. Rick Perry has urged the state's legislature to pass even more restrictions on abortion than already exist in the state, including laws that would criminalize virtually all abortions starting at 20 weeks of pregnancy and impose burdensome regulations on abortion providers. "To be clear," he said, "my goal, and the goal of many of those joining me here today, is to make abortion, at any stage, a thing of the past."
Amid these relentless attacks, there was one bit of bright news. A congressional conference committee, working in December to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013, debated whether to keep an amendment that would repeal a long-standing ban on health insurance coverage of abortion for military women who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest.
The amendment passed -- a victory for the brave servicewomen who risk their lives daily to serve our country. But the question remains -- was this bit of progress a glimmering that lawmakers will actually listen to their female constituents? Or will their memories prove to be short-lived? The jury is still out, but women will be watching.